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Indianapolis’ first Black automotive salesman dies at 87

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Longtime Indianapolis businessman Payton R. Wells died May 9.

Wells owned several car dealerships throughout the city. He started his career in the auto dealership industry as the city’s only Black salesman — one of a few in the U.S. — in the 1960s.

When an Indianapolis Ford dealership became available during the late 1970s, Wells took the chance to own his first auto dealership. The car market shifted, and he resigned from Ford to take on the responsibility of more dealerships throughout Indiana. 

He owned Payton Wells Automotive Group, which started as a single dealership and grew to 12 franchises in 20 years. Wells owned Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Lincoln, Jeep, Kia and Nissan dealerships in Indianapolis, Anderson and Louisville, Kentucky.
As a Black man, he knew what Black people had to go through to buy a car, so he made it easier for Black people to get approved for car loans after banks discriminated against them.

Wells had a major influence on many throughout the Indianapolis area, including Fred Medley. Medley’s father died during his senior year of high school and Wells became a father figure. 

“He was there during the birth of my first son,” Medley said. “He stood in as my father at my wedding and attended every holiday that followed.”

Kevin Kimbrough, who was mentored by Wells, followed in his footsteps and learned the ins and outs of the auto dealership industry. He became operational controller of many of Wells’ dealerships.

“He grew up during an era where opportunities weren’t always granted to him,” Kimbrough said. 

In addition to being an auto dealer, Wells cared about the community and believed in taking action to help others. If you were in need of food, shelter or clothes, he provided it for you. Wells didn’t believe anyone in America should be homeless, Medley said.

Friends of Wells want him to be remembered for his tenacious spirit, perseverance and his willingness to go above and beyond for you.

“Payton was friendly and never saw a stranger,” Kimbrough said. “He had this twinkle in his eye when he spoke to you.”

Wells attended Crispus Attucks High School and later took courses at Butler University and Purdue University. Before owning car dealerships, Wells owned Payton’s Place, a restaurant located downtown.

Wells is survived by his lifelong companion Joan Johnson, brother Joe Wells, and other family and friends. 
 
Contact intern Terrence Lambert at 317-924-5243. Follow him on Twitter @TerrenceL.

Services for Payton R. Wells
Visitation for Payton Wells will be 4-8 p.m. May 21 at Stuart Mortuary Chapel, 2201 N. Illinois St. Funeral services will be 11 a.m. May 22 at Eastside Baptist Church,
2845 Baltimore Ave. 

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